By  on October 7, 2008

BOSTON — Eighteen months after becoming Frette’s global chief executive, Paul Raffin is diversifying the venerable linens brand, including widening the apparel selection.

“This represents the new vision,” Raffin said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday for Frette’s new 2,776-square-foot boutique at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on Boylston Street here.

The store, which has a fresh, more contemporary design, carries an expanded apparel range and all manner of home and personal accessories.

“We’re a bed linens purveyor on a journey to transition to a luxury brand celebrating our Italian heritage, while giving customers a 360-degree lifestyle experience,” Raffin said.

With the latest store and the reopening of the flagship on Madison Avenue in Manhattan in November, Raffin hopes to shake perceptions that Frette is stodgy and accessible only to those who can spend $15,000 on sheets.

“We’re spending a lot of energy communicating in Boston; we have bed sets starting at $395,” Raffin said.

And in apparel, there is a yoga-inspired set, in cotton jersey, for $225, along with a $1,250 loungewear set.

Apparel represents less than 10 percent of the 148-year-old Milan brand’s $125 million-plus in annual sales, but Raffin wants to grow it to 15 to 20 percent of the total. To underscore the category’s importance, the Boston store uses plenty of mannequins — posed on beds in negligees or leaning against walls in loungewear. Racks holding silk nightgowns, camisoles, robes and pants are built into alcoves.

“We don’t think we’ve explored loungewear fully — we can go from sexy lingerie to more classic man-tailored pajamas,” Raffin noted, adding that although he doesn’t anticipate the brand moving into sportswear, he might experiment with specialty evening items — a highly detailed blouse, for example, or wrap.

Raffin spent 10 years running Limited Brands’ Express division, a formative experience that’s evident in his decision to add quilted cosmetics bags and candles, among other items, to Frette’s mix.

Frette could also expand its offering by partnering with one of its “sister” brands. JH Partners, the San Francisco private equity firm that acquired Frette in 2006, also controls lingerie label La Perla.

Since La Perla’s bras pick up where Frette’s unstructured camisoles leave off, Raffin said the executive team has discussed locating stores side-by-side or sharing space and looking for other synergies between the two.

While Raffin hopes Frette customers will spring for a lingerie travel wash set ($110 for miniature clothespins and a perfume bottle’s worth of detergent), he’s pragmatic about economic realities.

“We’ve been controlling inventory and expenses,” he said. “We’re in a strong position to weather whatever slowdown occurs.” There will be no new market expansions next year. He believes the Boston store will fare well because of pent-up demand for sophisticated goods.

“There has been a marked change in the psychographic of consumers,” Raffin said. “There are a lot of wealthy, young customers here.”

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